(director/writer: John Woo; screenwriter: Robert Archer Lynn; cinematographer: Sharone Meir; editor: Zach Staenberg;  music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Joel Kinnaman (Brian Godlock), Harold Torres (Playa), Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi  (Detective Dennis Vassel), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Saya Godlock), Anthony Giulietti (kid); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Christian Mercuri, Lori Tilkin, John Woo; Lionsgate; 2023)

“This is not a holiday film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The legendary Hong Kong action filmmaker John Woo (“Face/Off”/”The Crossing”) returns to Hollywood for the first time since his 2003 sci-fi film Paycheck. He directs this gimmicky dialogue-free revenge thriller, that’s visually pleasing, has a lively soundtrack and the action scenes are well-choreographed. The film lives up to Woo’s standards, though it’s predictable and grim.

It’s Christmas Eve and a man is racing on foot through a slum neighborhood in a fictional town in Mexico, where there are police sirens and gunfire, as he chases after 2 cars shooting at each other. He has a bloody hand and is wearing a Christmas sweater. We learn the distraught man, Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman), is chasing after the gang who killed his young son (Anthony Giulietti) with a stray bullet, while the innocent bystander was on his bicycle, during a gang fight between rival gangs.

Besides the psychological depressing torment from the tragedy, Brian’s been shot in the throat and his vocal chords are damaged so he can’t talk. As the brooding Brian becomes withdrawn and filled with rage, his wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) can’t take living with him anymore and splits.

The shooting is investigated by Detective Vassel (Scott Mescudi), but the bereaved dad wants vigilante justice. In his basement, Brian watches martial arts videos and stock-piles weapons. He plans to kill the gang’s vicious leader (Harold Torres) and wipe-out the gang, and is not concerned with dying.

Kinnaman communicates through body language and facial expressions, giving a fine moving performance.

The film finishes with a bang in its last act, a life-or-death showdown with the raging dad and the gang leader. This takes place on Christmas Eve, a year after the incident.

The emotional story strains credibility and has nothing to say about the justice system. Also, let me assure you, this is not a holiday film even if the title does.

REVIEWED ON 12/5/2023  GRADE: C+